Rich and Poor
For a while now, I have had the following quote from Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge taped to the inside of a handful of Bibles and displayed in prominent (i.e., unavoidable) locations in both my home and church office. I’ve posted the quote here before, but these are words that I could stand to hear again (and again and again) at the outset of a new year. It is a quote that speaks powerfully and personally to me. It speaks of the self that I would like to be, for Christ’s sake, for the sake of others, and for my own sake.
A rich self has a distinct attitude towards the past, the present, and the future. It surveys the past with gratitude for what it has received, not with annoyance about what it hasn’t achieved or about how little it has been given. A rich self lives in the present with contentment. Rather than never having enough of anything except for the burdens others place on it, it is “always having enough of everything” (2 Corinthians 9:8). It still strives, but it strives out of a satisfied fullness, not out of the emptiness of craving. A rich self looks toward the future with trust. It gives rather than holding things back in fear of coming out too short, because it believes God’s promise that God will take care of it. Finite and endangered, a rich self still gives, because its life is “hidden with Christ” in the infinite, unassailable, and utterly generous God, the Lord of the present, the past, and the future.
Every time I reread this quote I am struck by how naturally the “poor self” (and not the “blessed are the poor” kind) seems to come to me and, I suspect, to many others as well. It is so easy to look at the past and grumble about opportunities not given, gifts not acknowledged, hands not dealt. So easy to blame others, the system, existence, God, But, no. Gratitude. It is so easy to live in the present with a kind of scrambly and acquisitive anxiety, always trying to make sure we’re covering bases, fortifying defenses, getting what we’re owed. Or what we think we’re owed. But, no. Contentment. It is so easy to approach the future with worry and fear. What will come? How will we prepare? What if we let people down? What if they discover that we are not who they thought we were? How will we cope? Will we be OK? Will God be pleased. But, no. Trust.
What I like best about the quote is the last line:
A rich self still gives, because its life is “hidden with Christ” in the infinite, unassailable, and utterly generous God, the Lord of the present, the past, and the future.
Selves become “rich,” in other words, when they realize that their richness comes not from what they can conjure up on their own, not the characters they are able to cultivate with their own steely resolves, not through grim effort and white-knuckled discipline, but with the simple recognition that richness comes from somewhere else. From someone else. The one who became poor for love’s sake, that through his poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). The “utterly generous God, the Lord of the present, the past, and the future.”
The image above was the one I turned over this morning for the season of Epiphany on the 2014-15 Christian Seasons Calendar. It is called “Watchmen, Tell Us of the Star” by Pamela Dunmire. A beautiful picture of the star that hovered over the poor little child through whom all people could come to know what richness means.